Monthly Archives: August 2019

Picture The Scene If You Will

Picture the scene if you will. It is the summer of 1588 and Britain faces the threat of naval defeat and invasion as an armada of Spanish ships sails up the English Channel and an army of 30,000 soldiers wait in the Netherlands to capitalise on the expected defeat of the British Navy. The British fleet is a rag-tag collection of old warships, privateers’ galleons and rough trading vessels : not unlike the collection of little boats that would evacuate the troops from the Dunkirk beaches some 352 years later.

At the heart of the British fleet are the 34 ships of the royal fleet, and the largest and most imposing of them all is the White Bear. Built in 1564, the 40 gun White Bear was seen as one of the grand old ships of the British Fleet at a time when the average life of a galleon was just 10 years. But under the command of Lord Edmund Sheffield, the White Bear played a central part in the routing of the Spanish Fleet and, in triumph, returned to port in Harwich on the 18th August. During the height of the great battle, one can almost imagine her captain gripping onto those sturdy timbers searching for the resolve to carry the battle through to a successful conclusion.

Picture the scene if you will. It is 1593 and we are in the port of Hull on the east coast of England. The country is now safe from invasion and Queen Elizabeth is secure on the throne of a country that is beginning to build a worldwide empire. The lessons of naval defense have been long learnt and the Royal Navy is renewing, re-equippping and re-building.

The life of the White Bear comes to an end in the breakers’ yards of Hull, where the timbers that once provided the very skeleton of the countries’ salvation or now ripped from the heart of the ancient hulk. But wood was too precious to rot and to waste : there are always buyers for ships’ timbers for the quality is good and the cuts are the best. One can imagine the salvage merchants appraising those timbers and thinking where they might be sold and how they might be used.

Picture the scene if you will. It is early June 2010 : a warm evening in West Yorkshire. An old blogger, his Good Lady Wife and his faithful dog decide that it is a perfect evening for a pint of foaming beer and they head to one of their favourite pubs, in the West Yorkshire village of Norwood Green. Our hero enters the bar – wife and dog having settled at one of the outside tables – to appraise the range of excellent traditional hand-pulled beers on offer. With a sense of anticipation, he runs his fingers along the ancient wooden bar top and makes his choice.

NOTE : The White Beare was originally built as a farmhouse and alehouse in 1533 on the Old Packhorse track running between Halifax and Leeds. It was rebuilt some 60 years later following a fire using timbers from the Elizabethan Galleon called ‘The White Bear’ and was renamed in honour of the ship.

First published on “News From Nowhere” in 2010 – revived in celebration of a grand night out at the Old White Beare, August 2019.

Dripping With Meaning

Photo trouvée : noun – an image found by an artist and displayed with no, or minimal, alteration as a work of art.

I’m no artist, but I could put together a pretty good case to suggest that this is a work of art. In the best traditions of “objet trouvée“, I found it amongst a pile of old and forgotten photographs. I know not when or where it was taken, or who it features; but it drips with meaning, and is infused with art.

Changing Times In Elland

In some ways the centre of Elland has changed little since this photograph was taken 100 years ago, whilst in other ways it has changed so very much. The Saville Arms is still open, and still dispensing beer, but the bank opposite has stopped dispensing cash and many of the shops stand empty. The clock has gone and so have the cobbles, but the scene is still instantly recognisable.

The card was posted in Lincolnshire and it contains a somewhat uncertain, and rather formal, message :-

Dear Sister, We are coming either Saturday next or Monday next but not sure which, A Ingall.

Hopefully Mrs Ingall managed to get to see her sister in Sutton-On-Sea. Hopefully the people of Elland will get to see commerce thriving again in these buildings in due course.

Young Girl With A Basket

This is a photograph of a young girl carrying a basket. It is my attempt to match this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt image – which is a photograph of a young girl carrying a basket. The prompt photograph dates from the early years of the twentieth century, and my little photograph is of a similar vintage. We know that the prompt image was taken somewhere in Mexico, and with a similar degree of certainty, we know my photograph was taken in Yorkshire.

I am not sure exactly who the girl in my photograph is, but if it was possible to extract DNA from a photograph, I would think there is a good chance you could match it with mine. It is a tiny photograph – about one inch square – that was stuck in the back of the postcard album kept by my mother’s uncle, Fowler Beanland. It might be my mother or her sister Amy, or it might be an earlier generation of Beanland girls. When I ask my Lightroom facial recognition for suggestions, it suggests my niece, which is obviously inaccurate in terms of date, but accurate in terms of DNA.

Whoever it turns out to be, it is a charming little photo and a rather good Sepia Saturday match. 

The Age Of The Smile

Photograph Of Unknown Family – 1920s/30s

Smiles – smiles on photos, at least – were a twentieth century invention: smiles on the faces of the subjects of Victorian photographic portraits are as rare as Trumpian truths. The reason was partly that Victorian cameras could only cope with fixed expressions – but it was also partly that they tended to be a miserable lot. By the 1920s and 1930s, people were more relaxed, and smiles began to appear, and this added a welcome layer of humanity to photographs. Once you achieved the technological ability to instantly see – and digitally enhance – your photographic image, things started to become unreal again, with blemishes banished and pouts propelled to prominence. For a few decades, however, photographic smiles reflected something like real joy and honest emotion. It was the age of the smile.

A Case Of Municipal Pride

Back in the early twentieth century, when picture postcards were all the rage, the subjects reflected what people saw as important, what they were proud of, what – to them – represented their home towns and villages. There were, of course,  many pictures of celebrity music hall stars and vacuous views of pretty nothingness; but there were also grand public buildings – town halls, churches, and museums. There was a municipal pride that seems to have sadly evaporated as the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first.

So if you were writing to a Belgium beauty from Edwardian Halifax, what better image to send her than one of the finely proportioned Bankfield Museum. The subtext doesn’t seem to say, “look at the fine homes the rich and famous can live in“, but, “look at what we can create together when we are proud of our collective history“.

Finding Myself In Northowram

Howes Lane Looking Towards Northowram : Alan Burnett (c1970)

I grew up in the village of Northowram, a few miles north of Halifax, and I must have taken this photograph of the top end of the village about forty years ago. It shows the village, looking east from Howes Lane. What caught my eye when I scanned the negative a few days ago was the mill chimney in the very centre of the image, because I couldn’t recall either the mill or its imposing chimney in the centre of the village. 

I solved the mystery when I eventually recognised the house I grew up in and remembered that there was a tall chimney to the side of the old Crown Brewery building on Bradford Road, where the tannery used to be. The brewery is long gone along with its various buildings and chimneys, and therefore it was difficult to confirm that this was the chimney in question. I went on-line to try and find information about a mill and its associated chimney, but the only two I could find mention of were well out of the village centre. I eventually found confirmation when a Google search threw up an old photograph of the brewery building with clear evidence of a large chimney next to it. Clearly my memory of the village of my youth is beginning to fade with age – and this was confirmed when I discovered that the old photograph that confirmed the presence of a chimney was one of my own!

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